EcoPeace Middle East has met with members of the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection with regards to the disastrous 4th December oil spill. As was reported by international press agencies at the time, the spill was caused when a pipeline that runs from Ashkelon near the Mediterranean sea, to Eliat near the Gulf of Aqaba burst, allowing 5000m3 of crude oil to spill, contaminating small reservoirs and ponds in the hyperarid Evrona nature reserve near Eilat.
In a meeting with the deputy minister of environmental protection, Ofir Akunis, EcoPeace was able to raise the issue of trans-border impacts from the spill on the Jordanian people through pollution of their land, water, and soils. The oil flow was stopped only a few hundred meters from the border to Jordan in the Arava Valley. Officers of the Ministry of Environmental Protection said that they were in direct communication with the Jordanian authorities, keeping them informed of the accident and its impacts.
In a site visit by a member of EcoPeace staff with an expert team from the Ministry of Environmental protection and the nature Park Authorities, further information was gathered. The Evrona area is a topographically closed basin, so there is almost no risk of drainage of the oil in to the Aqaba gulf. In the case of an extreme flash-flood event, an earth dam was constructed to prevent oil from moving South, ensuring the safety of the delicate coral reefs there. 3,000 m3 of oil was able to be recovered into oil tanks from the pools in the local wadi’s alluvial fan, and the 14 hectares of still contaminated soils are being treated. Around 25 thousand tonnes of the more heavily polluted soils have been transported to a special treatment site in Nemara disposal site, with other soils being treated in site, though as these treatments are still in the pilot stage, we wait to hear if this will be successful.
Levels of air pollution decreased rapidly as the gas in the crude oil was evaporated in the first few days. Although the smell was strong enough to reach both the populated areas of Eilat and Aqaba, it did not reach a level as to be dangerous to health, and today air in the reserve, a few meters from the oil spills, is good.
EcoPeace have demanded deep and extensive investigation regarding the causes of the accident and that the results of the investigation will be open to the public. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has opposed renewal of the pipeline until the company responsible, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, have satisfied their safety measure demands. EcoPeace has also raised their objection to any oil drilling and transport near environmentally sensitive areas, or close to major freshwater sources. Ecologists are still unsure at this stage if the fragile ecosystem will survive.
This post is contributed by Dr Youval Arbel, Water Officer at EcoPeace Middle East in Tel Aviv.